Category: Neurodiversity, Arts Council England, Autism, ADHD, Neurodivergent, National Lottery Project Grants, Autism Awareness
Wendy Benefer is a neurodivergent musician and teacher who specialises in teaching autistic, ADHD and dyslexic students. Her new project, funded through National Lottery Project Grants, offers high-quality, accessible musical workshops to neurodivergent students, to help build a bridge for communication, healing, and support.
We caught up with Wendy to discuss the project, why her work is important and how funding from the National Lottery helped bring the programme to life.
Can you tell us about your programme and how National Lottery Project Grants enabled you to deliver the project?
After recently being diagnosed as Autistic, I realised the importance of having readily available support for neurodiverse people. I was keen to deliver a project that could make a difference and help people in the ways that would’ve helped me when I was younger. To do this, I provided bespoke one-to-one sessions to Autistic and ADHD artist-participants and created a series of engaging workshops, customized to each participant’s individual ambitions, and needs. All of the workshops were fully accessible; most took place in the participant’s own home where they felt most comfortable with the environment, and one or two participants preferred an online format.
I also designed and printed a free, bespoke, high-quality Autism / ADHD and Dyslexia friendly booklet to support the sessions. Feedback from the participants was that they all found this extremely helpful for reference and understanding, both during and between the sessions.
Booklet Cover. Photo © Wendy Benefer.
The Art Council’s investment through National Lottery Project Grants helped me finance the development and production of the supporting resources to deliver this project. I also had access to invaluable support throughout from Access All Areas.
Support from the Arts Council gave me the confidence to go ahead with the project and helped me to network and reach out to other local neurodiverse people.
Why is this project important, and what did you hope to achieve?
Music and creativity can build a bridge to communication and healing, and give participants an outlet or support structure as a complement to, or alternative to medication.
There was very little ongoing one-to-one support for Autistic and other neurodivergent people (both young and old) to help them develop their creativity and communicate confidently and authentically. I’m very aware of the challenges associated with Autism, such as lower life expectancy and higher risk of mental health problems in comparison to neurotypical people.
Anything we can do to support and include Autistic people is hugely important. By running the project, I hoped to help individuals who wouldn’t otherwise engage with one-to-one sessions, to develop their musical creativity and be able to express themselves and communicate confidently.
What I achieved was so much more. The standout result was the improvement of wellbeing in the projects participants – they (or their parents) all reported a marked improvement in their mental health and general wellbeing. I also witnessed a striking improvement in self-esteem and positive focus among participants. The sessions have reduced their anxiety levels, they have confirmed the difference it has made to their lives, with some non-speaking students developing a method of creative communication for the first time.
Crucially for Autistic musicians, this programme has helped young artists to express their emotions through music, in a more immediate way than by talking. This accessible structure has helped these young artists to access their own artistic voice and style.
What inspired you to create the programme, and can you explain the process for participants, from how they began to the final resource compilation?
I wanted to provide an ongoing course that fills the gaping hole for supporting Autistic people creatively, both adults and children. I wanted to use my areas of expertise in musicianship, understanding Autism, ADHD, and other neurodiverse conditions, and my love of working with people one-to-one in their own homes to help them develop creatively.
Snapshot of duo at summer festival. Photo © Wendy Benefer.
Participants began the course with little or no experience of developing musical ideas or playing music with another person. I have worked with each person over many weeks to help with listening skills and musicality, and other things specific to their individual needs and ambitions. This included adapting the workshop plan as we developed it to suit individual access needs and areas of interest. Each participant was recorded throughout the course so they could monitor their progress and improve their performance skills and creative talents. By the end of the course, everyone who was interested in doing so has produced a recording of their achievements.
During the programme, what moments stood out for you?
Witnessing the improvement in the artists' wellbeing, observing them build their confidence as an artist and hearing from their parents how much they have benefited from taking part. I saw how music can help focus the body and mind with a positive outcome - that is uplifting. It was great building up a trusted relationship with participants and their parents over the weeks of workshops and seeing how successful my project has been.
Parents found learning about my own lived experience of being Autistic helpful to aid their understanding of how their children were experiencing the world. It was also lovely to, when appropriate, include other members of the group’s family during the workshops performances and developing their approach to communication through music.
“This has massively improved his confidence and self-esteem is raised. You understand Autism, so you understand my son. He has wanted to play music for so long but we never found the right person to work with.”
-A parent of one of the programme's participants.
What advice would you give to others looking at applying to National Lottery for their own projects?
I would definitely encourage others to apply for National Lottery Project Grants for their own projects. It is worth reading through the advice on the Arts Council website to fully understand what is required before deciding on your application. You need to have a clear idea of the project, what you want to achieve and have the inspiration to follow it through.
I have got so much more out of the experience than I could ever have imagined. Not only have I impacted others’ lives for the better, but I’ve also grown in both a professional and personal capacity too.
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